At least 34 civilians have been killed in a bout of ethnic violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern region, authorities said, after a week of soaring tensions.
Sunday’s attack by the Mai-Mai Mazembe, a Nande ethnic militia, targeted a camp for displaced people in the Hutu village of Luhanga, local official Joy Bokele told the AFP news agency.
“They started by attacking the FARDC [DR Congo military] position. While they were attacking the FARDC, another group was executing the population with bladed weapons or bullets,” Bokele said.
Bokele added that one of the attackers was killed in the clashes.
Tensions between the Nande and Hutu have been running high in the troubled east of the country, shaken by two decades of fighting over land, ethnic tensions and mineral riches.
The Nande accuse Congolese Hutus of supporting Rwandan rebel group, the FDLR. The Hutus say they are looking for land where they can settle for farming and accuse the Nande of trying to expel them.
Sunday’s attack is the worst inter-communal violence in a year. Dozens of people have died since the start of the year in fighting between the Nande and the Hutus.
“If the army had not intervened, there would have been many more dead,” a military source said.
“The militia was searching for members of the Hutu community and wreaked carnage before burning down the village entirely,” said a local rights group, the Centre for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights (CEPADHO). “The attackers were there for more than an hour.”
The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or MONUSCO, said a peacekeeping force in the area had heard gunshots and was “quickly deployed and neutralised the attack”, killing one of the attackers.
The UN mission said 15 people were wounded and had been evacuated.
CEPADHO called on the government and the UN mission to take urgent action to prevent further ethnic violence.
“The Mai-Mai Mazembe made threats against the Hutus during the week, demanding that they leave the area or risk a purge,” peace centre added in a statement.
A representative for the Hutu community group also called on Congo’s government and the UN peacekeeping force to take steps to secure the safety of the region’s Hutu population.
North Kivu has been the scene of repeated clashes for nearly two decades, and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.